Kuwait’s Indian embassy sets model to help workers in distressBy Prashant Sood, IANS
Sunday, February 27, 2011
KUWAIT CITY - It is a model that other Indian embassies in the Gulf region could emulate while dealing with problems of Indian workers, particularly women, in distress.
The Indian embassy in Kuwait, which serves an estimated 640,000 expatriates in the Gulf state, has evolved a system that provides comfort, security and dignity to the worker in distress.
Ambassador Ajai Malhotra said while the Indian community is present in most segments of society in Kuwait, the embassy’s welfare thrust is primarily focused on addressing the concerns of workers.
Since April 2009 the embassy has been accommodating a number of Indian domestic workers, including housemaids, houseboys, cooks and drivers, who face problems on their work front.
Apart from ensuring their shelter, the mission has also been addressing their grievances, Malhotra said.
“They are given a kit containing new clothes, toiletries, bunk beds with new bedding and regular meals during their stay. They can also watch TV and listen to music,” Malhotra told IANS.
Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was on a three-day visit to Kuwait to attend the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, which was marked with festivities and a massive military parade Saturday.
According to Malhotra, workers who are repatriated are given the air ticket from Kuwait to the airport nearest to their home in India, Rs.3,000 for incidental expenses, a suitcase and new set of clothes.
“The idea is that they must return to India with a higher sense of dignity,” he pointed out.
The ambassador said it was mostly women who came seeking shelter at the embassy with some problem or the other and they stay there for an average of four to five weeks.
At present there are 50 women and two men in the embassy’s shelter. It accommodated 585 domestic workers in 2010.
The embassy has worked out a system to shelter the workers in distress. The funds for the shelter come from a fixed upfront payment made by sponsors who want to avail the services of Indian workers. The money goes to an outsourced company, which is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the facility.
According to Malhotra, the ministry of overseas Indian affairs is keen to replicate the Kuwait embassy model to help Indian workers in distress in other Gulf countries.
Malhotra, who has been the Indian envoy in Kuwait since March 2009, said there had been instances of distresses involving Indians which had moved him to tears.
The embassy staff also visits jails regularly to extend consular support and other assistance to Indians serving sentences there.
“A lawyer from the embassy’s panel accompanies our officials to provide free legal service and support to them,” he said.
There are 252 Indians presently serving sentences in Kuwaiti jails.
Malhotra also said that the the embassy plans to screen sponsors who want to employ Indian workforce so as to minimise the scope of problems in the future.
The Indian embassy in Kuwait has a round-the-clock toll free helpline for domestic workers that was inaugurated in August 2009. It is a multiple line call centre and provides the embassy with a print out of incoming call details so that they could be traced back to sources.
The call centre is staffed by people who can converse in Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Arabic and English.
The embassy helpline number is front-paged on all job contracts so that new domestic workers know that someone is constantly available to help them, the envoy said.
According to the embassy data, Kuwait has about 75,000 housemaids, about 1,50,000 cooks, drivers and houseboys, nearly 2,30,000 project workers from India.
There are also others working in professions such as medicine, engineering and nursing. Indians constitute the largest expatriate community in Kuwait.